God will not be mocked

Many years ago, Reinhold Niebuhr warned against proclaiming, “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

His words have a sad prophetic feel to them as I look at the landscape not merely of mainline protestant denominations, but of popular evangelicalism.

The subtlety of how this often begins is captured in the following advice. 

“We shall do well to play down the picture of God or Christ as Judge. A range of alternative models, the healer, the therapist, the patient lover, the counselor, all seem more appropriate for bringing out the primary interest of divine judgment, namely, the restoration of the creature to integrity and the winning of his love, despite what he has done or made of himself in the past” (B. Hebblethwaite, The Christian Hope [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984], 215). 

I suspect that this counsel would be heard by many (even among evangelical leaders) as wise. But it’s actually very dangerous in that it risks a therapeutic gospel where a Savior from sin might feel unnecessary — or at least not the most pressing concern. 

Ultimately, we must see that this kind of counsel mocks God by proposing man-centered philosophy in the place of the word of God, the cross of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who faithfully proclaim a God of righteous judgment will increasingly find themselves on the outside if this counsel prevails. 

God’s servants in Old Testament times faced similar challenges:

  • II Chronicles 36:16 - “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.”
  • Ezekiel 8:17-18 - “Have you seen this, son of man?” he asked. “Is it nothing to the people of Judah that they commit these detestable sins, leading the whole nation into violence, thumbing their noses at me, and provoking my anger? Therefore, I will respond in fury. I will neither pity nor spare them. And though they cry for mercy, I will not listen.” 

Let us heed the warning, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Let us also remind ourselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as taught by Jesus himself, “…when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment concerning sin, because they do not believe in me” (John 16:8-9).

The apostle Paul closed his message to the philosophers of Athens declaring that, “God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Salvation occurs in connection with a series of experiences that trace to judgment and guilt. Four sequential elements are involved - conviction, contrition, confession and conversion.

Steve Cornell

Social Justice and the Church

The Church is in need of a far deeper understanding of what it means for believers to be agents of common grace who are committed to the welfare of the city of our exile.

This calling is rooted in our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It also has profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life between redeemed and unredeemed.

1. Common origin: God’s ownership and image as a universal human reality.
2. Common Concerns: stewardship of the earth as a shared dwelling place
3. Common Connections: accessible truth about God, moral order and transcendence.

This part of our mission is largely built on truth about the universal human reality of the Imago Dei (the image of God). It provides a case for believing that, “God has lawfully ordered his creation in a way that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness” (Richard Mouw). Romans 2:15-16 appear to validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture.



The realm of common grace presupposes an ability to have rational conversations about a common good with fellow human beings. In some political circumstances Christians must accept limitations and pursue other means of influence because they are not permitted to participate in choosing laws and policies. But as long as we live in a system that allows us to sit at the table to seek the good that leads to laws and policies, why would we neglect such a privilege? 



Are there social, cultural and political agents of change ordained by God for the common good? Yes. And these are His gifts of common grace. Parents and authorities are two of the primary examples (Ephesians 6:1Romans 13:1-4). Society benefits when parents are attentive and diligent. We need laws and law enforcement to protect us. We also need mentors to train us.

We can engage in truth-based dialogue and persuasion in settings like family, work, community and government without quoting biblical chapters and verses. When sensitivities are high to separation of Church and Sate, explicit use of Scripture in dialogue about public policy will be more quickly dismissed. 

We can confidently articulate a worldview that honors our Creator and Savior without verbalizing explicit references to the Bible. We can also hope for some of these truths to resonate with the general public.  Never forget that each person brings a worldview to discussions about moral and social issues. Many of our laws and policies reflect moral and worldview commitments.  

What we need is more thoughtful creativity about the best ways to engage the public in serious dialogue and persuasive thinking on current social issues. Frankly, what I’m advocating will require a deep understanding of the unfolding narative of Scripture in shaping our worldview. 

How could those who honor the Creator refuse to care about a common good for His creatures? How could we withdraw from the table of discussion where the policies and laws are formed that profoundly impact our neighbors?

Of course, all activity on this level can never displace the greater needs we have as human beings. The human need is far deeper than social or cultural change. Our nature itself must change. We need a change of being or ontological transformation. This change only comes through God’s gift of spiritual regeneration in the gospel. Rules and laws can be used to regulate behaviors but a change of being is nothing short of a creative act of God.

God said, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). We need a recreation or new creation by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) for the restoring of God’s image in us.

Steve Cornell

 

God and His World

    • “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14).
    • “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
    • “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:10-11).
    • “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24-25).
    • “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place God watches all who live on earth – He who forms the hearts of all, who considers
everything they do” (Psalm 33:13-15).

¨“Every human being on the planet is known by God, considered and evaluated by God, called to account by God” ¨“To be human is to be addressable by one’s Creator—with no regard for ethnicity or covenant status. God can speak to an Abimelech or a Balaam or a Nebuchadnezzer as easily as an Abraham, a Moses or a Daniel.” (C. Wright, The Mission of God)

Question: ¨How should I live each day in light of what I have learned about God and His world?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who 
belong to the family of believers” (Galatians  6:9-10). 
(See also:¨Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Colossians 4:5-6; I Peter 3:14-15).
_____________________

Steve Cornell

See Also: Does God Control Everything?

All for the gospel

Manifesto for our mission:

“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:23) 

πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

We cannot live this way unless we practice the mind of Christ in all our relationships (a kenosis mentality — Philippians 2:3-11). 

Three tensions we embrace: (from the late John R. W. Stott)

  1. “Culturalizing without compromising”
  2. “Permeation without contamination”
  3. “Identifying without losing our identity.”

Three challenges for the Church: (from the late John R. W. Stott)

  1. Breaking out of the safety of our Christian stockades
  2. Entering sympathetically into the dilemmas of our contemporaries.
  3. Applying Biblical solutions to unmask false and harmful ideologies.

Profile of a Disciple of Christ

Followers of Christ are called to the greatest work on earth: Making Disciples!

Before leaving the world,

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT).

Jesus repeatedly identified true discipleship and thus defined the task of making disciples. He gave us a great profile of a true disciple in the eight beatitudes and metaphors of salt and light (Matthew 5:1-16). We also learn from Him that a true disciple is:

1. One who openly confesses Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:32-33Mark 8:38II Timothy 2:12-13).

2. One who obeys Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20John 8:31; cf. 14:1515:14Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21 w/12:46-50.

3. One who suffers for Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23I Peter 2:214:1John 15:18-21Matthew 5:11-12Mark 8:34-3510:29-30).

4. One who loves other believers in Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35I John 5:1; cf. Matthew 10:34-3812:46-50Ephesians 4:3Philippians 2:14-15).

5. One who becomes like Jesus Christ (Luke 6:40; cf. Romans 8:28-29a13:14Galatians 4:19I John 3:2-3)

Steve Cornell

Focused on three callings

By staying focused on three main callings, we’ll experience much stronger unity as followers of Christ. Focus on….

1. Your Moment (past salvation)
2. Your Mission (present calling)
3. Your Master (future meeting)

(Audio link below)

Your moment

This is the “I get it” moment when I realize my sin required the sacrifice of the life of the Son of God for me to be forgiven and reconciled to God. This includes the sobering fact that nothing I do can change my standing with God. 

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3;4-5). 

I must have an Advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” (I John 2:1-2). I need a “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17), one who is able to  “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15), and “able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25).

“O God of grace, I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of clothing, for You always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, Father, forgive me, and You are always bringing forth the best robe.” (Puritan prayer)

Your mission

“You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). But salt must retain its saltiness and not become contaminated. Light must be allowed to shine. As salt, we serve a restraining function – deterring social and moral deterioration. As light, we dispel the darkness of sin and unbelief — reaching out to those who sit in the darkness. When we stay on mission we’re more likely to keep the main thing the main thing. We’re less likely to attach our hearts to issues unrelated to the kingdom and eternity. 

Your Master

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:9-10). As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must give an account of our service. This meeting  before His judgment seat is closer with each passing day. Focus on this appointment should cause us to “make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (II Corinthians 5:9).

  • The evaluation of each believer will be a time of personal accountability when our works will be evaluated by the Lord (II Corinthians 5:9-10; Rom. 14:10-12; Heb. 13:17).
  • The result will either be reward or loss (I Cor. 3:11-15; cf. Phil. 3:5-8; Rev. 3:11; II Cor. 5:10) and possibly even shame (I Jn. 2:28).
  • Judgment is not about destiny. Our eternal destiny is settled in this life. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36).
  • Judgment is focused on our service — the things done while in the body. 
  • Evaluation of service for God is based on the motives of the heart behind the service (I Corinthians 4:5).
  • Our motives have some relationship with the quality and enduring significance of our service (I Cor. 3:11-15; II Cor. 5:10).

Jesus gave the best explanation of concern for motives. He warned about doing “works of righteousness” (like giving, praying and fasting) with the motive of being seen by man (Matthew 6:1-21). If gaining recognition and human honor is my motivation, in Jesus’ words, “you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). There will be no enduring fruit and reward for such service.

Our deeds will be “good or bad” in relation to their enduring quality. Service for the Lord endures (like “gold, silver and costly stones,” I Corinthians 3:12-13) when done “in secret” for God’s glory. Jesus said, “…your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4,6,18).

Service that does not endure is without reward (burned up like “wood, hay or straw”). This is the kind of service that is done for attention and praise from man. When praying, giving or fasting, Jesus warned against prostituting what is sacred to promote yourself.

The apostle taught that each person’s work “will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (I Corinthians 3:13). When the Lord comes, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (I Corinthians 4:5).

Stay focused on

1. Your Moment (past salvation)

  • John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:1-7
  • II Corinthians 5:17-21

2. Your Mission (present calling)

  • Matthew 5:13-16
  • Matthew 28:18-20

3. Your Master (future meeting)

  • II Corinthians 5:9-10
  • I Corinthians 3:11-15; 4:5; Matthew 6:1

Audio version here

Steve Cornell

So heavenly minded, no earthly good?

 

When God’s people were exiled in the ancient city of Babylon, God continued to speak to them. God instructed his servant Jeremiah to write a letter to them with a word of assurance for their future:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:10-11). 

This word for the future was not meant to motivate a “wait till it’s over” mentality. Instead, they were told to be active parts of ordinary life in their city of exile and they were to do this in a way that pursued the welfare of the city. 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them;and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

What did it mean for them to “seek the welfare of the city”?
 
We know that it at least involved a rejection of postures of vindictiveness and complacency. Both postures would have been a tempting. If the people looked back to the way the Babylonians brutally destroyed their city, they would have been tempted to reject the call to seek the welfare of the city of Babylon. If the people focused selfishly on the future God promised for them, they could have been tempted to become complacent toward their city of exile.
________________________________________
Neither looking back, nor looking ahead should be used to encourage perspectives and postures of disengagement. 
________________________________________
God’s exiled people must approach their place in this world with a commitment to “seek the welfare of it” and to ”pray to the Lord on its behalf” affirming the truth that, “in its welfare you will have welfare.” Their presence and involvement in the life of their city is a calling to strategic engagement for its good. It no doubt parallels what it means for the followers of Christ to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). 
____________________________________________
Deeper reflection: 

“…. there is a world that God created that is shared in common by believers and non-believers alike. In the classical Christian view, the goodness of creation is fundamentally and ubiquitously marred by sin but it is not negated by sin. It may be fractured, incomplete, and corrupted, but his goodness remains in it. The gifts of God’s grace are spread abundantly among the just and unjust in ways that support and enhance the lives of all.  As it is in the world that God has given, so it is in the world that his creatures fashion.  This work is also typically pursued in common with those outside the community of faith.  The task of world-making has a validity of its own because it is work that God ordained to humankind at creation.”

“… any good that is generated by Christians is only the net effect of caring for something more than the good created. If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, in other words, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”      

“…until God brings forth the new heaven and the new earth, he calls believers, individuals and as a community, to conform to Christ and embody within every part of their lives, the shalom of God.  Time and again, St. Paul calls Christians to “shalom” (1 Cor. 7:15), to “follow after the things which make for shalom” (Rom. 14:19), to “live in shalom and the God of love and shalom will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11) for He is “the Lord of shalom” (2 Thess. 3:16).  In this Christians are to live toward the well-being of others, not just to those within the community of faith, but to all.”

“… believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside of the church.  Thus, even where wisdom and morality, justice and beauty exist in fragments or in corrupted form, the believer should recognize these as qualities that, in Christ, find their complete and perfect expression. The qualities non-believers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace.” (see: Acts 14:14-17 and 17:24-29)   

“As a backdrop to all of this, there is a natural life originating in creation and a natural order in things that can be understood, developed, and enjoyed.  The dazzling processes of growth in a tree or a bug or a newborn baby, the intricacies of molecular biology, the stunning ordered-complexity of mathematics, and the underlying logic of music all speak of an order that God has created and that has not been effaced by the fall, that people can discover and take pleasure in as well.  These things too, Christians should neither dismiss nor disparage but rather be grateful for and be delighted by because they are gifts of God’s grace meant for their benefit and the benefit of all.”

“Indeed, insofar as Christians acknowledge the rule of God in all aspects of their lives, their engagement with the world proclaims the shalom to come. Such work may not bring about the kingdom, but it is an embodiment of the values of the coming kingdom and is, thus, a foretaste of the coming kingdom.  Even while believers wait for their salvation, the net effect of such work will be a contribution not only to the good of the Christian community but to the flourishing of all.” (James D. Hunter, To Change the WorldThe Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World)

Steve Cornell

Bound to the Creator and Lord of life

Throughout history, Christians took the lead in solving the social problems of their communities: medical care, trade unions, prison reform, abolition of slavery, establishment of orphanages, etc. … This approach to ministry grew out of the awareness that God made human beings physical beings with bodily needs; social beings with community needs and spiritual beings in need of salvation. Therefore ministry should involve works of relief, development, and evangelism.

Yet according to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, the primary need of humanity is salvation — the need to be made right with God (Luke 12:4-5). Salvation, as one has said, “bind’s man’s will afresh to the Creator and Lord of life.” According to the biblical model, the gospel changes people, and changed people have a beneficial influence on society (as salt and light, Matthew 5:13-16). The vertical dimension of reconciliation sets into motion the horizontal benefits. The regeneration of individuals within society precedes and gives way to reformation of society.

Any ministry that fails to respect this priority departs from historic Christianity. Yet, to ignore the physical and social needs of our neighbors is less than consistent with the love of God and disrespectful of the way God created humanity. The Apostle John wrote: “If anyone has material possessions, and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3:17-18). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Common grace ministries needed

I have a growing concern about the lack of thoughtful consideration of the activities of God outside of the context of redemption. I don’t mean activities disconnected from redemptive work because everything traces a degree of connection.

We need to ask if God cares about the conditions, actions and achievements of unbelievers in ways that are not immediately linked to individual salvation? 

How do we respect the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time honoring (with active appreciation) all that is good, beautiful and true outside of those boundaries? This question could have significant identity and mission implications for individual believers and local Churches. 

What I am interested in is divine actions that fit into categories of common grace and general revelation. In a broad sense, these categories have been acknowledged for many years by most theologians and teachers. Yet they too often remain at a lofty distance from the life of the believer and the local Church. 

  • How should our knowledge of God’s common grace and His revelation of Himself through creation be reflected in the ministry philosophy of the church? 
  • How much do these truths impact our approaches to people and our activities outside of the community of the redeemed? 
  • What is the connection between these truths and our practical theology?

Several recent works have brought attention to these matters. Richard J. Mouw’s brief but engaging book, “He shines in all that’s fair: Culture and Common Grace” is a fine conversational piece for deeper reflection. Mouw echoed my concern, suggesting that,

“The standard formulations of common grace teaching have often had an unfortunate feel of passivity for Christians. They have depicted a transaction between God and unbelievers with virtually no attention to the active role of the Christian community in ‘delivering the goods,’ so to speak, of common grace.” (p.80).

Mouw encouraged his readers (as he did in his earlier work, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World) to recognize deeper aspects of the Imago Dei (image of God) in connection with common grace themes and to apply these truths by commitment to imitatio Dei (imitation of God) through “common grace ministries.” 

Is it possible that “passivity” on this important subject has encouraged the Church to institutionalize itself in ways that wrongly isolate it from culture? I am concerned that the church has increasingly become a body of people who largely speak to themselves, about themselves and exist for themselves. Is it possible that much of the Church (at least in western cultures) has abrogated divine callings by narrowly focusing emphasis on the spiritual dimension of humanity? 

Why does the Church seem largely irrelevant to so many people? Have we compromised our “salt and light” identity? These are the questions that have burdened me over the past decade. On more than a few occasions, I have suggested that limiting Christian calling and influence to the spiritual dimension is a betrayal of both the Imago Dei (image of God) and imitatio Dei (imitation of God).

Consider some key Scriptures that invite us to reflect on a wider focus:

Acts 14:15-17 

The apostle Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Lystra and God performed a miraculous healing of a lame man. The people who saw this began to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods.

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Perhaps we feel comfortable with attributing divine activity and witness to the common grace of “rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food,” but what does it mean that God “fills your hearts with joy”? What is this activity of God in the lives of those who do not know Him? 

Acts 17:24-30

The apostle Paul is speaking to polytheistic philosophers in Athens. Notice how he portrays the activity of God in the lives of all people. 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth … He gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

The universal reach of God’s activity is emphatically stated. God “gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” The apostle encourages those who are unredeemed to recognize the nearness of God as so significant that, “in him we live and move and have our being.” He exhorts them to view themselves as God’s offspring and to respond to his universal command to repent.

Luke 6:35-36

Jesus called his followers to a radical response to the unredeemed based on imitatio Dei (imitation of God).

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36)

Romans 2:14-15

“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

“God has indeed lawfully ordered his creation, and there are biblical passages — Romans 2:15 is an obvious case in point — that make it clear that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness.” (Mouw)

The Belgic Confession states clearly that in addition to God’s revelation in Scripture, “[w]e know him…by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead”—all of which is “sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.”

How do we translate these truths into our theology and our activity in the world? 

Another more recent book addressing these themes is James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, I resonated with Hunter when he suggested that,

“… believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside of the church. Thus, even where wisdom and morality, justice and beauty exist in fragments or in corrupted form, the believer should recognize these as qualities that, in Christ, find their complete and perfect expression. The qualities nonbelievers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace.” 

Fear of theological compromise

Perhaps those who feel hesitant about these emphases worry that, “Christian presumptions of an available common moral discourse signal that we have negotiated an unfaithful compromise with the fallen order” (Mouw).

But by taking these truths seriously, “…we do not make our witness in the larger world on the assumption that humankind has been made more receptive to the truth of the gospel by some kind of across-the-board upgrade.”

Hesitations (particularly among those committed to a reformed theology) to embrace common grace theology in a way that becomes missional is often based in fear that emphasis on “general revelation, natural law, natural theology, and similar notions … can lead to a categorical endorsement of the moral and rational capacities of human beings in general. Either the radical effects of the fall are denied outright, or they are acknowledged and then quickly modified by the idea of a prevenient grace, an across-the-board upgrading of our original fallen state, so that some significant segment of our shared human consciousness has been repaired and our depravity is no longer in effect.” (Mouw)

So, as Mouw advised, “We proceed with caution, knowing that the rebellious manifesto of our first parents — ‘We shall be as gods!’ — still echoes all around us. But we also know — and this is an important message for common grace theology — that the Spirit of the reigning Lamb is indeed active in our world, not only in gathering the company of the redeemed from the tribes and nations of the earth, but also in working mysteriously to restrain sin in the lives of those who continue in their rebellion, and even in stimulating works of righteousness in surprising places. And so, while we proceed with caution, we also go about our business in hope.” 

Fear of theological messiness

Mouw acknowledged that endorsing “a common grace theology is to learn to live with some theological messiness.”

In view of what Mouw called “a large measure of messiness” he cautioned that, “we must seek the common good with the clear awareness that in the public square we are surrounded by people “who call good evil and evil good, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20). And yet it is in these circumstances that we hear again the Lord’s ancient call to his redeemed people to seek the welfare of the city of our exile. This messiness, then, isn’t something that we can hope to eliminate; nor can we minimize it as we develop our strategies for public witness. … But …all of our theological probing will eventually bring us to a humble acknowledgement of the divine mysteries” (Mouw).

Steve Cornell

 

What in the world is a worldview?

A worldview is a way of understanding the world and your place in it. It’s a philosophy of life or a core set of beliefs and values that control your life.

Ask the man on the street, “What’s your worldview?” or “What’s your view of life?” and you’ll hear things like:

1. “Hey, to each his own.”
2. “You only go around once.”
3. “What’s right for you, is right for you.”
4. “As long as nobody gets hurt, go for it!”
5. “If it works for you, it’s fine with me.”

Of course, these are simplistic and self-serving ways of viewing life. If you care about something more than yourself, you’ll need a more thoughtful outlook or worldview. Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of worldview.

What is real?

Worldview addresses the question: What is real? People say things like, “Hey, reality for me is….” or “My reality is…..”.

Reality is usually shaped by the things that fill our lives and matter to us. For most people , reality is work, family, hobbies, sports, relationships, holidays, vacations, retirement, etc… These are the contexts that are real to our daily lives. This is where most people do life

But is there a larger reality than our daily activities? This is the nagging question behind the search for purpose and meaning. Humans intuitively long for a more ultimate reality. Is there a reality that injects meaning and depth into all other realities and one that stretches the human heart beyond this world toward eternity? There is more and God wants us to have a worldview that reaches beyond this world. 

When God teaches a worldview lesson

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

God said, “I led you,” “I tested you” “I humbled you” “I caused you to hunger”—Why? “to teach you.”

God was teaching them the most important lesson one can learn. It was a worldview lesson. Here it is:

Man does not live on bread alone.” Man lives “…on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”

If we reversed what God said, we would hear the worldview: “Man lives on bread alone.” This is the major division of worldview and it’s as old as humanity. 

First worldview: “Man lives on bread alone”

What would it look like to live by this worldview?

Those who follow this worldview, live to sustain and enrich this life.  Temporal relationships and possessions are the basis, purpose and meaning of life. Thoughts about God and eternity would only matter in relation to sustaining and enriching this life.

We are all born with this worldview as part of our nature. Our nature is so strongly inclined toward a life based on temporal fulfillment that we must be taught through trials (like the children of Israel) not to live by this code. Our opposition to seeing things any other way is so deeply lodged in us that it takes the force of hardship to dislodge it.

The worldview “Man lives on bread alone” is what we know by our five senses. We are naturally inclined toward measuring everything based on the temporal and the immediate (temperature, taste, comforts and pleasures). We easily live for what the eye desires, the flesh craves and what feeds our pride. This is the love of the world spoken addressed I John 2:15-17. It is contrasted with what is eternal in this text.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (I John. 2:15-17).

Second worldview: “Man does not live on bread alone.”

If the first worldview is bound to what is earthly and temporal, what does this worldview look like? What difference does it make if (in this life) “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”?

This is a life of dependent obedience toward God. This is life lived in a personal relationship with the God who speaks. It is life “on/by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Here is the person who flourishes under God’s word—His laws, decrees, precepts, judgments, actions, warnings, promises, etc….(cf. Psalms 1; 19; 119; Proverbs 2:6).

Question:What causes us to transition from one worldview to the other? According to the text in Deuteronomy, the discipline of God is the catalyst that moves us. God said, “I led you,” “I tested you” “I humbled you” “I caused you to hunger”—Why? “to teach you”— to teach you the most important spiritual lesson one can learn: a worldview lesson: “Man does not live on bread alone.” “Man lives “…on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

One of the primary works of God in our lives is to loosen our grip on this life and transfer it to eternity (cf. Col. 3:1; I Jn. 2:15-17; Phil. 1:21; 3:8-10; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Study these verses and you’ll see that this transfer is at the heart of spiritual transformation. In a kind of ironic way, learning and living this lesson in worldview is at the heart of living most meaningfully in this life.

God’s worldview lesson will lead us to ultimate reality that is finally and fully in Jesus Christ and His loving sacrifice for us.

Nowhere is this more powerfully described than in Colossians 1:15-20:

“He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Steve Cornell